Saturday, January 18, 2014



                   2nd draft = first draft minus 10 %
Someone scribbled that on the bottom of a manuscript that Stephen King sent out when he was a teenager. He thought it was important enough to copy onto a piece of cardboard and tape to the side of his typewriter. He claims that when he followed that advice, good things started to happen for him. 

I've also heard that 75% of revision is eliminating words that you have already written and 25% is improving the words that remain.

I've tried it with a manuscript that I am currently working on. I finished the first draft at the end of August and it ended up a whopping 45,000 words (whopping for a juvenile novel.) My goal was to cut it back to 39,000 which is actually a reduction of about 13% . Hey, I was up for a challenge. Before I started, I knew I could get a lot of words out of the first chapter which was far too long, but I was nervous about where the rest of the words would come from.

 I tackled it in two parts. The first time through I tried to be ruthless and deleted large chunks -  whole paragraphs and sometimes entire scenes. I cut way back on my flashbacks. To make myself feel better, I cut and paste them into a file and told myself I could always put them back. They're still in that file. The pace of the story picked up and that felt exciting.

A key question to ask yourself is "Does it move the story forward?"

If  the answer is no, it has no business being there.

I still had a couple of thousand words to go. That's when I looked for unnecessary speaker attributions  - the "he said's" when it's obvious who's speaking.  I cut out a lot of adverbs (not all) and a lot of physical reactions - she took a big breath, his stomach tightened, the back of his neck prickled. (I've been much more aware of those ever since I read a complaint by an agent who said a lot of novels read like anatomy textbooks!) Other places I hunted for unnecessary words were when I repeated a thought or an idea - sometimes helpful for emphasis but usually not needed.

I kept a running tally using my computer's word count and felt like celebrating when I hit 39,362  (where I sit now.) Did I make the story better? Absolutely. Do I miss those scenes that disappeared? Not any more.

I'm not finished with the manuscript. Remember,  25% of revision is improving the words that remain. All my energy can go into that now, knowing that I have "killed my darlings" and nobody suffered!

Some advice from Theodore Cheney says in Getting the Words Right . . .

It's time to slash out the underbrush. The reader will get lost in the tangle of words and won't see the beauty of your forest if you don't go in with brush hook and machete. A first draft almost always suffers from the tangles.

My favourite kids book of the week:

Whatever by Ann Walsh
This young adult novel is new out this year and a super read! Sixteen year old Darrah has to participate in a Restorative Justice Circle and her sanctions involve helping out an old lady. The secrets in the book keep the reader guessing to the end.  I also highly recommend Ann Walsh's well known and well loved Barkerville series.

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